By Ian Ransom
MELBOURNE (Reuters) – Andy Murray’s brilliant returning was always going to be a handful for Milos Raonic but it was the quality of the Briton’s serve that proved decisive in the world number two’s advance to a fifth Australian Open final on Friday.
Murray will meet his Melbourne Park nemesis Novak Djokovic for a fourth time in the title-decider, having fended off an injury-hampered Raonic 4-6 7-5 6-7(4) 6-4 6-2 at a floodlit Rod Laver Arena.
The 13th-seeded Canadian has one of the biggest serves on tour but Murray more than held up his end, if not matching the power of Raonic’s rockets or his tally of aces.
Twice-grand slam champion Murray was broken only once in the opening game but took the 25-year-old’s serve four times.
“When you play against someone who is tough to break like Milos, you need to protect your own serve to put pressure on them,” Murray, runnerup last year to Djokovic, told reporters after the four-hour classic.
“I think at the end of the fourth set I did very well. I won some of the breakpoints I faced. I came up with some good second serves. You know, changed the position of the second serves on a few points.
“Served close to the lines. That was big. But against anyone it’s one of the most important shots, if not the most important, especially tonight.”
Murray was on the back foot against the Canadian for much of the match, and had to bide his time for his chances.
He had virtually no hope in the third set tiebreak as his opponent denied him a look at a second serve.
As the match wore on, however, Murray said he felt he adjusted to the pace and movement of Raonic’s missiles, and his ability to get a racquet to them was key to levelling the match.
“I just tried to keep going, keep making as many returns as possible, and continue to make it difficult for him,” Murray said.
“Eventually I was able to engage in more baseline rallies and dictate more of those points, which made him do more of the running.”
An adductor muscle injury to Raonic’s right leg noticeably slowed him in the decider and the Canadian expressed his frustration by smashing his racquet after being broken early.
Murray’s focus never wavered and he roared on to close out the match and ready himself for another tilt at champion Djokovic, who has beaten him in all three of their finals.
“Five finals is a great achievement,” he said. “You can’t take that away from me.
“I have a very good shot on Sunday if I play my best tennis.”
(Editing by Andrew Roche)